As the fallout from the Setanta collapse threatens to throw Scottish Football into turmoil, Rob Freeman takes a look at one of Scotland’s franchise clubs, Livingston, who are close to collapse without this having happened.
The Scottish Franchise club, Livingston, is one step closer to going out of business after they admitted they are unlikely to pay their rent arrears of £280k by the end of the month. Livingston may as well have been the prototype for the theft of Wimbledon FC by Bjorn Rune Gjelsten and Kjell-Inge Rokke in 2002. In this instance it was Meadowbank Thistle who were the victims. Meadowbank were originally the works team for the Ferranti engineering firm in Edinburgh, who upon election to the Scottish League in 1974 were forced to change their name, as a condition of entry, so as to meet the League’s rules on sponsorship.
In the 1990s, however, the Scottish League decided to reorganise, and Meadowbank Thistle ended up dropping from Division Two to the new Division Three. When this occurred, Meadowbank Thistle chairman Bill Hunter claimed that the club were losing money and could not survive at that level – excuses Wimbledon fans will remember vividly from their own experience. The “solution” that Hunter’s used will also be familiar to Wombles – he moved Meadowbank Thistle to the new town of Livingston and took their new home’s name.
Supporters and defenders of the relocation will point to the fact that the Scottish League is a closed shop, which makes it impossible for new clubs to get into the Scottish Football League unless someone drops out, but that is of little comfort to those fans left behind. It also ignores that just fourteen months beforehand, two clubs – Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle – had been elected into the league as part of the League’s reorganisation.
Life for Livingston hasn’t been all smooth since their relocation. On the field, they progressed up the league, reaching the Scottish Premier League in 2001, finishing third and qualifying for the UEFA cup, in their inaugural season in Scotland’s top flight. Crowds didn’t matched the on-field success however, and they spent beyond their means, and in February 2004, they entered administration for the first time. Since exiting administration, Livingston have changed hands twice, and since last June, have been owned by an Italian consortium, led by chairman Angelo Massone. Things haven’t gone smoothly since Massone took control. Financially, they seem to have been coming apart at the seams over the last seven months.
First of all, last November the Inland Revenue threatened them with a winding up order, over an outstanding tax bill, believed to be in the region of £100k, players have only been paid on time twice during the season, and even threatened to strike ahead of their home game against Ross County in January after that month’s wages didn’t materialise on time. Manager Paul Hegarty, his assistant Graeme Robertson were both suspended in April after just five months in charge, eventually being officially sacked last week. Massone claimed that neither had been turning up for a meeting to resolve their situation, but Hegarty and Robertson were advised by their union and their legal representatives not to attend the meeting because they have not been paid since March.
Last month the club board requested donations from fans, in order to help keep the club afloat, and only raised £149.50. When the club had their electricity cut off last week over the non-payment of a £32k bill, Massone claimed that he had deliberately left the bill unpaid, so that fans of the club would see “what happens if I don’t put in my own money”.
The club also announced that they had reached a deal with West Lothian council to buy the Almondvale Stadium, a claim that the council deny. And it is the arrears that the council are owed by the club that is the latest – and biggest threat. Failure to pay the outstanding £280k by next Tuesday, or come to some sort of agreement, will see the council take action – either by evicting Livingston from the stadium or forcing the club into administration. Livingston did raise £125k last week by selling Leigh Griffiths to Dundee but with very few, if any saleable assets left, time is running out for the Massone regime. But, with such a short history and controversial beginnings, it is difficult to see who will come to Livingston’s rescue. Ironically, this could lead to Spartans – who until recently played at Ferranti Thistle’s old City Parkground – or Edinburgh City – who play at Meadowbank’s old Meadowbank Stadium, and essentially became the club of choice for the disenfranchised Meadowbank fans – take Livingston’s place in the Scottish League.